First, a little backstory: My dad was accepted into the Japanese baseball league in 1986, so I spent a good portion of my childhood in Yokohama. I attended an international school and hung out with other foreign children, and as a result, I never picked up the local language. Nonetheless, I consider myself a child of Japan, enjoying the pleasures that Japanese children enjoyed. That's why for my fourth birthday, instead of the gray-and-black, VCR-style Nintendo Entertainment System, I was gifted the red-and-white, toylike Family Computer. Over the next few years, I sampled many games that you may be familiar with and many more that you may not.
I have no idea how my parents knew which games I'd enjoy, though. I don't remember ever catching a videogame commercial, I never browsed through shoppers or magazines ... all I had was the word of my playmates whenever I went over their homes. Somehow, my parents possessed this innate ability to probe the inner sanctum of my mind and conjure up another gem that I would lose myself in for years to come. Those two batted a thousand, seriously.
But I'm supposed to be talking about my father, and what kind of a father would he be if he didn't sit down with me from time to time for a little head-to-head action on the Famicom? There weren't many games that he could actually play, though. I wonder if as he was shopping for new software that he was also putting serious thought as to what he might glean some enjoyment out of when I inevitably thrust the second controller into his palms. That's probably why I wound up with three copies of Family Stadium.
Years before I learned of Madden, I was introduced to the wonderful world of yearly roster updates with Namco's baseball franchise featuring faceless round men and the catchiest music you've ever heard recycled in every installment. I kid you not. This is a clip from the 1990 edition and this is the trailer for a recent DS entry. Such constancy is even worse than Madden! On another note, I owned the '87, '88, and '90 iterations. Why the skip? I dunno. Maybe 1989 was a bad year for baseball. Never mind those beefs because those were the greatest games ever! This was my father doing everything in his power to pass down his baseball legacy to me. He wanted me to enjoy the simple pleasures of the sport so that it could enrich my life as much as it had his. Sad to say, I am no sports nut these days, but you can't blame the man for trying!
Now it's time to pick our teams. There was no way I couldn't rock my father's colors, so I'd always choose to play as the Yokohama Taiyo Whales. It made no difference which one he picked, as I never could keep up with the opposing teams' names and the single-letter abbreviations didn’t help with my memory. The letter 'W' meant Whales and the rest I referred to by uniform colors only.
There were these two screens that appeared after the stadium selection menu that I can only assume had something to do with customizing the lineup. It was all squiggles to me. I gave my father those glances like, "Why aren't YOU able to decipher this, Mr. Celebrity?" He would return those glances with ones that said, "They pay me to hit home runs, not to read." At the very least he could recognize his own name! Too bad it never appeared in any of the games. Seriously, we looked up and down that Whales lineup and never found his entry. Those Namco dogs must never have made that important call to his agent. Must be the Curse of the Gaijin.
There's not much else to say about the game itself. Simple to play, simple to watch … yeah, if you wanted then you could pit two computer-controlled teams against one another. What was important was facing my dad, the pro ballplayer, and competing as if I was out there on the field with him. At the stadium I was a spectator, but here I was his rival. It was baseball. My father's passion for the sport and my passion for videogames would meet during these sessions and become something more, a new experience that was unique only to us.
As with all fathers, bonding with me meant sometimes doing things that my father never quite understood. It's about pleasing the child, after all. My dad loved game time as much as I did, but I wanted him to enjoy the act of playing as well. I wanted him to enjoy gaming in much the same way I once loved baseball not only because I idolize my father, but also because I felt the spirit of the sport every time I stepped into that stadium. Well, there WAS this one game that enthralled my father, one game that he loved so much that he would beg me to join in so as to fool my mother into believing that he wasn't playing with a child's toy simply for his own amusement.
There was Double Dragon II.
Aside from Contra, what other game on the NES is more testosterone-fueled than two headstrong brothers on a quest for vengeance? My dad somehow caught wind of this title and felt it appropriate for some "serious" male bonding. My dad was nuts with this game. So nuts, in fact, that since moving to the States, my dad has made a number of return trips to Japan and would always return with a couple of brand-new games (it's that ESP again, how does he know what to get?).
On one such trip, he purchased a second copy of Double Dragon II. I told him that we already owned it and he gave me this bewildered look on his face. I knew he had to be pulling something! He never once bought a duplicate by mistake. He KNEW we had Double Dragon II. What did he think we played all those years? I guarantee that the man bought that thing for himself, to frame it and display it like one of his trophies. Five bucks says he hid it away the day we gave my Famicom collection to my cousins. The sneaky devil.
So how's Double Dragon II in Japanese? Not much different than Double Dragon II in English. Oh, except for the text-filled cutscenes. Slight problem reading those. My father was pretty quick on his feet and incorporated story time into our little game sessions because, darn it, his son has no idea what's going on so he's going to make something up. Sure, his ad-libbing left a lot to be desired, but you can't blame the man for trying!
We played that game from start to finish so many times that it became second nature, like breathing. For the tight platforming sections, we would always go one at a time. If one guy was running low on lives, the other would take a fall for a little life-stealing. Oh, what the hell, we beat up one another just for kicks sometimes. Who doesn't? Aside from that, it was serious business. Do whatever it took to get to that crazy green-haired monkey at the end. At that point, it was all-out war as strategy went out the window and my father and I hurled whatever tricks we could to take that joker down. Maybe if we were lucky, we would pull off that sweet knee-to-the-face maneuver that neither one of us quite knew how to perform voluntarily. All that struggle for the pleasure of hearing my father's cheesy, action-movie-cliché-ridden epilogue:
"No! You! It ... can't ... b e...! How could you kill me!?"
"You are finished! I have proven to be the strongest! Now die!"
"Oh? My girlfriend is sleeping over here. I must kiss her and wake her up so we can go home!"
Yeah, brilliant stuff right there. My dad probably paraphrased a bit, but you know what? I haven't seen the ending to the English version, but I have my suspicions that it's not all that different from my father's interpretation. If it is, well, my father's is just better. I really have to score another copy of Double Dragon II some day. Maybe then I can be the storyteller.
Eventually, I grew up and no longer required my father's playmate services. My brother would become my designated Player 2 and my love affair with videogames would continue. But, ya know, it's just not the same. When I play with my friends, with my brother, we are playing a game first and enjoying each other's company second. It was different with my dad. Games were the centerpiece but it’s what took place around that focal point that I enjoyed the most. Sharing the spirit of baseball, listening to my father's action film dialogues, that is what I savor the most. That is how I know my father and I will always be there for one another.